“Every five years or so, Joe [Elliott] would say, ‘We need to do a covers album!’” explains Def Leppard drummer, Rick Allen. “Finally we just recorded it and told everybody after the fact. We made this album to really give people an idea of where we came from musically and what inspired us growing up.” The album in question is Yeah, Def Leppard’s brilliant collection of ‘70s rock classics that includes such hidden gems as David Bowie’s “Drive in Saturday,” Badfinger’s “No Matter What” and “Street Life” by Roxy Music. “The idea was to choose songs that inspired us prior to being signed to a record deal,” Rick continues, “but we didn’t want to pick anything that was too obvious, such as Stones or Beatles songs. Interestingly enough, we all came up with similar song lists!”
Allen confesses that playing the drum parts on these songs gave him pause to consider certain aspects of drumming that have become something of a lost art. “These days, I think a lot of people work out songs using drum machines, and that’s sometimes reflected in the simplicity of the songs,” says the drummer. “Back then there was no such thing as a drum machine. Once you play a song live that’s when you figure out what the song really means and wants to be. It’s nice playing the new songs, but some of the old favorites – let’s face it – are the soundtracks to people’s lives. As soon as that [recognition] occurs, the songs really do take on their own personality, every night.” Catch Rick on tour with Def Leppard supporting Yeah through the end of 2006.
Metal Edge: As you become more comfortable with and adaptable to your physical situation (Note: Rick lost his left arm in a car accident twenty years ago), how does your set-up change?
Rick Allen: Over the years we’ve simplified things; with fewer moving parts fewer things can go wrong. Just the other day somebody asked the question, ‘How long did it take you to relearn?’ Basically, I think that the human spirit is the strongest thing I know. If you can tap into that, then what happens is that your brain rewires itself. I saw things change without me even really trying. I was able to do more things with my right hand than I’d ever done in the past, and what I can’t play cleanly with my right hand I’ll substitute for beats with my left foot. My left leg got more dexterous as time went on as well.
Metal Edge: Are you playing on all pads or are there acoustic drums in your set-up?
Rick Allen: Right now I’m using an acoustic kick and snare, and three pads. Everything that I used to play with my left arm I now play with my left foot using foot pedals on the floor. That set-up changes when I’m back at home, and in the studio I’ll probably be using more acoustic drums.
Metal Edge: When you guys play “Rocket” it really sounds like you’re doing a bass drum shuffle. How are you getting that sound?
Rick Allen: What I do for that is I use a four beat loop that I play on the up beat. A nice thing about the electronics is I can take elements from the record and actually use them in a way that fits in with how I want the song to sound live.
Metal Edge: When I saw Def Leppard recently, I especially loved the intro to “Rock On,” which starts with Rick Savage doing a bass solo and then you come in and the two of you just lock. What’s your dynamic with Sav like?
Rick Allen: I did an interview recently all about Sav’s and my relationship. I think that intuition really comes into play with that, where we anticipate what the other will do. At a certain point you don’t literally need to communicate that in a normal way. I know he’s going to do exactly what’s expected of him. It’s nice because I can relax and I rely on his timing sometimes, where if something is a little challenging he’ll be right there with me.
Metal Edge: Do you meet many disabled drummers who say they’ve been inspired by your story?
Rick Allen: Not just drummers but musicians in general. Yesterday, for instance, I was at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. One guy there was talking about how he’d loved playing guitar before he’d lost one of his limbs. I told him ways our guitar player Phil [Collen] had explained to me that people could play [guitar] without using both hands. It’s been interesting to share that, but it’s a two way street. I’m so inspired by people I meet, to the point where I realize it’s not about me giving somebody a wonderful experience and blah blah blah. It’s about my recovery and my development as well. I figure that I’m in a great position to make a difference if I can.”
Drums: DW acoustic drums
Sizes: 22″ Kick, 12″ Snare (with ddrum triggers)
Pads: (3) 8″electronic pads by Hart Dynamics
Hardware/Pedals/Electronics: DW hardware, custom pedals by Axis Percussion, (2) Akai Z8 Samplers, (2) Roland TD-20’s, (2) Grace Design headphone amplifiers, custom switcher by Whirlwind
Official Website: http://www.defleppard.com
This article was originally written for Metal Edge Magazine as part of a monthly column by Gail Worley (under the pen name Jayne Rollins). With the magazines’ dissolution, the article has been added to the content base of The Worley Gig for our readers’ enjoyment.